• An Unfair Advantage
  • Posts
  • Connecting with Audiences Through Tech & Culture: Interview with Rehab’s Senior Strategist, Takunda Chikuku

Connecting with Audiences Through Tech & Culture: Interview with Rehab’s Senior Strategist, Takunda Chikuku

With consumer behaviors changing by the day, we speak with someone at the crux, balancing cutting-edge technology and cultural authenticity.

Image generated by Midjourney. Article copy by Rehab Agency

tl;dr: In this article, we meet Takunda Chikuku, a Senior Strategist who joined Rehab in 2021 and has led projects for industry giants such as Google, Nike, and WWE. We discuss his background in tech, the state of trend cycles, and how brands can play a role in communities by placing them in culture.

In this interview, we discuss what brand utility means and answer the questions, can you create mutually beneficial relationships between brands and consumers and how can AI help foster authenticity?

Interview with Takunda Chikuku

Can you please introduce yourself and share a bit about your background as a strategist?

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by technology and how it works. Every new gadget I got, I’d inevitably break it to see how it worked and rebuild it. With a very active imagination and a keen interest in Sci-Fi, I would dream up and 'invent' new outlandish ideas.

I studied Computer Science at Brunel University, focusing on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), a combination of psychology, technology, and sociology. My Master's thesis was on using emerging technology to improve lives, experimenting with Augmented Reality, which was still an R&D technology (not as prevalent and commercial as it is today). I created a way-finding app similar to what Google later introduced as Live View for Google Maps.

I worked in the arts and startup scene for a few years before landing in advertising as a strategist. Given my background in tech, I challenged the agency model and output and advocated emerging platforms, tools, and digital brand utility before a brief stint as a creative technologist. However, I realized my passion was understanding human behavior and connecting the dots to technical solutions.

What attracted you to join Team Rehab?

Rehab was one of those unicorn agencies that just got it. I struggled to fit into advertising, as the primary output of all that research was a media campaign when the data suggested product innovation as a valuable win for brands. Along came Rehab, looking for a Product Strategist, a culmination of my skill sets, sitting between research, strategy, creative, and emerging tech.

Their work with leading innovative brands, looking to push the boundaries with emerging tech and digital products with a focus on providing value and utility to consumers, sealed the deal for me. Safe to say I was rehabilitated.

The level of trust and responsibility from day one, along with a team of friendly, down-to-earth, talented geniuses, provided me with a stimulating environment that fostered collaboration, rapid learning, and the sharing of cross-discipline knowledge. Plus, it was fun!

What do you think is the most effective way to connect consumers with brands?

I think the most important thing to understand in any brand-building exercise is that the consumer comes first. Understanding their needs and desires opens up a pathway to connecting with them in their language and being accepted in the spaces they occupy. Beyond that, building and cultivating fandom builds excitement, commitment, and a sense of community that creates a deep reverence and places brands in culture.

Consumer behavior is constantly changing and evolving, and keeping up with these rapid and seismic shifts is a must. In this new era, audiences are disillusioned and shying away from the public web; their existence in public platforms are more crafted and curated, projecting an idealistic version of the self. The real self is moving more and more into the "cozy web" - private online spaces far away from prying eyes and data mining harvesters, making it harder to understand and connect.

In 2024, trust and love are no longer given freely but earned. A quick way to build consumer love is through brand utility. After understanding your audience's wants and needs, figuring out how your brand can provide solutions that surprise, delight and earn a place in their day-to-day lives builds awareness right up to fandom. But it doesn't stop there. You have to acknowledge and reward your fanbase to keep reaping the benefits.

In recent years, AI has become a buzzword, but where do you see its real value for consumers?

AI has gone through an accelerated hype cycle, all in the space of a year.

This is the process so far:

Phase 1: Innovation Trigger - ChatGPT is made publicly available

Phase 2: Peak of Inflated Expectations - Fears that AI will replace human jobs

Phase 3: Trough of Disillusionment - AI hallucinations and automation complexity

Phase 4: The Slope of Enlightenment - Collective experimentation and productivity hacks

Phase 5: The Plateau of Productivity - Real valuable use cases are developed

The real value lies beyond the hype and tailoring AI's application to hard-for-human use cases. It's still early days, and this era feels similar to the digital transformation era before it (which is still underway, I might add). 

AI has huge potential across multiple key industries like healthcare, agriculture, finance, and education, to name a few. Lastly, it's important to remember the importance and sensitivity of data privacy; robust ethics must be one of your early considerations as you begin to adopt AI.

We talk a lot about trends. Do you still see value in them now that their life cycles are so short? Should brands be focusing on something else instead?

Trend forecasting has somewhat lost its value, with everyone publishing yearly trend reports and trend cycles getting shorter and shorter alongside our attention spans, especially in the digital space; however, they definitely still have value, even with reduced lifespans.

They provide insight into what is resonating with consumers in the now, allowing businesses to tailor their services and marketing in a relevant way that connects with audiences. Even a short-lived trend can generate positive bursts along the marketing funnel if a brand capitalizes on it quickly. Think of it as spotting a wave and adjusting your boat to ride it instead of changing the ship.

Going beyond trends and digging deeper might uncover patterns—seismic shifts rooted in changing audience behaviors sustained over a longer period of time. A short-lived trend might be a symptom of a larger seismic shift. Recognizing this underlying current allows brands to innovate their product and service offerings for the future and make long-term strategic decisions.

Lastly, how do you see emerging tech enhancing rather than overshadowing cultural authenticity?

I would say brands should not get enamored with the shiny new thing just for the sake of it but understand its applications in fostering authentic B2C (Business to Consumer) and C2C (Consumer to Consumer) connections.

The key lies in applying technology thoughtfully. It should empower users, not dictate their behavior or expression. We are social creatures and must prioritize human connection. Authenticity thrives on real interactions, not just virtual ones. By approaching emerging tech with these principles in mind, we can ensure it enhances, rather than overshadows, our experience of the world and ourselves.

Join the conversation

If you are curious about how to integrate AI into your creative process and want to know the actionable use cases that brands are working on today, take a look at Rehab’s new dedicated AI Consultancy page and get in touch to arrange an intro.